After eight years, Brisbane have won a game at the MCG. That, in itself, is remarkable and significant. More so is that they have done it against their bête noire, Melbourne, who had destroyed them twice this season.
And in so doing, this side, which has had a much-questioned finals record under Chris Fagan, have finally delivered when it counted. They move through to a preliminary final. And the Demons, the reigning premiers, are gone.
It is a stunning result, not least because the Lions looked so far off the pace in the first half. They ended up kicking 12 of the last 17 goals. Suffice to say, with their season on the line, they finally stopped doing what hadn’t been working for too long.
Eric Hipwood.Credit:AFL Photos
Even then, 20 points up late in the last quarter, they had to withstand a late Melbourne charge, and then drama: Jake Lever paddled a ball towards the boundary, it rolled over, and was called. Lever erupted. A 50-metre penalty against him put the match beyond doubt.
The issues for the Lions, particularly against Melbourne, are now well documented. Unable to find a way through the Demons early, their ball movement became timid. Time and again, Steven May, Lever and Harrison Petty chopped them off in the air.
Usually, it was the last kick inside 50 that undid them, as they refused to lower their eyes. From there, Melbourne would rush the ball back the other way, and the Lions weren’t able to go with them in the transition.
In the middle, it was likewise the same old story. They were brutalised in the contest and at clearances. Lachie Neale, astonishing against Richmond last week, was held to just nine possessions at half-time. And far too much was resting on his shoulders.
They worked harder in the second quarter, and for a time forced a stalemate. They threw everything at the Demons, but goals to Bailey Fritsch and Kysaiah Pickett blew the margin out to 28 points.
It was a last-gasp goal to Callum Ah Chee from a Dayne Zorko clearance that kept the Lions in touch on the stroke of half-time. It wasn’t much – but then Neale made the first clearance of the third quarter, Eric Hipwood kicked his second goal, and the game was back on.
Fagan had also thrown the move of the match, moving the combative Jarrod Berry on to Clayton Oliver. He couldn’t stop Oliver, but his physicality made a difference, and he gave plenty back the other way for the Lions.
In a couple of minutes, Charlie Cameron had his second, too, and the margin was back to 10. Neale continued to lift, the Lions began moving the ball more quickly and adventurously, and they kept their passes lower. Dan McStay hit Hipwood with a bullet for his third.
Now Melbourne’s own problems started to bite. They were generating enough opportunities, but they were missing too many of them, they didn’t have an effective key forward – Ben Brown was all but unsighted – and you could see the doubts creeping in.
Daniel Rich’s drive of half-back was lethal for the Lions, and Hugh McCluggage was the architect. When the two combined for McCluggage to spear through a goal, improbably, the scores were tied up.
Petracca, labouring with a fractured fibula, summoned an extra effort for the Demons. He stampeded through a pack to will the ball to Fritsch for his second, and Neal-Bullen added another. But Neale kept raising his game too – and Hipwood was emerging as a matchwinner.
Hipwood’s fourth tied the scores again on the stroke of three-quarter time, and all the momentum was with the Lions. McStay put them in front early in the last, after 90 minutes of chasing.
Cameron, with his third goal, and a quiet Zac Bailey appeared to make sure of the result, but still, the Demons had one last effort in them. Petty found a late, unlikely goal, and Ed Langdon had Melbourne within seven points with two minutes to play.
But the Lions held Melbourne out. It was a mighty effort – and a mighty roar erupted at the MCG, from travelling Lions fans, and perhaps from an old Fitzroy contingent, for a famous victory that will revive this team’s belief.
MELBOURNE 3.6 6.8 8.11 11.13 (79)
BRISBANE LIONS 1.3 3.4 9.5 14.8 (92
Goals – Melbourne: Pickett 2 Fritsch 2 Neal-Bullen 2 Langdon 2 Melksham Petty Langdon. Brisbane Lions: Hipwood 4 Cameron 3 Ah Chee McCluggage Fort McStay Bailey.
Best – Melbourne:. Oliver Petracca Gawn Neal-Bullen Petty May. Brisbane Lions: Rich McCluggage Neale Hipwood Zorko Berry.
Injuries – Melbourne: Nil. Brisbane Lions: Nil.
Umpires: Gavine Hosking Meredith.
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